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Colorado governorship within reach of third-party candidate

Two months ago, many political professionals were chortling at Tom Tancredo’s third-party bid to become Colorado governor.

The former firebrand Republican congressman said he was the only conservative who could stop the Democrats from winning the seat after a scandal-plagued “tea party” candidate unexpectedly captured the GOP nomination.

Tancredo’s volatile rhetoric on illegal immigration and calls to bomb Mecca have won him passionate followers, but also high unfavorability ratings in the state. He had no money on hand and little time to mount a campaign against the Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a popular politician with millions of dollars in contributions in the bank.

But less than two weeks from election day, it’s possible to imagine a Tancredo governorship.

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A poll late last week found him just 4 percentage points behind Hickenlooper, whose support has stayed flat while Republican nominee Dan Maes is flirting with single digits. It is only one poll, and from a Republican-leaning pollster, but it matched the arc that all polls have picked up since Tancredo entered the race in late August — his support is rising as Hickenlooper’s is stalling.

“Momentum is on our side,” Tancredo told reporters Monday. “That’s the most powerful thing in any campaign I’ve been involved in.”

Hickenlooper has led every poll so far and was up by 11 percentage points in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday.

Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin weighed in on Tancredo’s chances this way:

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“The reason I’ve been sure — and the reason I remain (mostly) sure — that Tom Tancredo will never be governor is that he is, after all, Tom Tancredo. He’s the guy who says Barack Obama is a dedicated Marxist and who suggested George W. Bush had blood on his hands because of his immigration policy and who believes voters should have to take literacy tests and who, during his aborted run for president, kept a running tab on his office door of how many people were being killed by illegal immigrants, even if the numbers were entirely unsupported.”

Floyd Ciruli, a former state Democratic Party official who is an independent pollster, said that before the last couple of months, Tancredo regularly posted some of the highest negative ratings in the state, and Hickenlooper some of the highest favorables. Now, he said, it seems the Hickenlooper campaign may have taken victory for granted.

“He thought — as did most of us — that he was the perfect candidate,” Ciruli said. But, this year, he added, the public wants “an angry man, or an angry woman, with sharp elbows really taking things on.”

Ken Bickers, a political science professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, summed up the race: “This is a year really about the Democratic Party, not who’s running in the opposition. Tancredo could actually pull this thing off.”

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Through a spokesman, the Hickenlooper campaign said, “We’re going to keep our focus on one poll: the one taken on election day.”

The amiable Hickenlooper has tried to stay above the fray as the Republican candidates imploded. The establishment candidate, a former congressman, was embroiled in a plagiarism scandal and narrowly lost the nomination to Maes, who was fined for paying himself $45,000 from his campaign fund and said Hickenlooper’s bike-swap programs were part of a United Nations plot.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, ran characteristically quirky ads, including one in which he took a shower (fully clothed) to “wash off” negative campaigning.

Tancredo entered the race on the American Constitution Party ticket. He spent most of the first month pummeling Maes and taking much of his support. In recent weeks, Tancredo has turned his fire on Hickenlooper.

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On Monday, the mood was giddy in a cavernous hotel ballroom here as Tancredo supporters gathered for what was billed as a “unity rally.” The speakers included conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, a man whose 3-year-old son died in an accident involving an often-arrested illegal immigrant driver, and Tancredo’s campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, who is the sister of commentator Pat Buchanan.

Slightly more than 100 people filled a room meant for 10 times that number, but their enthusiasm was high. Karon McCormick gave $50 to Maes after the Republican primary but now backs Tancredo. “We want to beat Hickenlooper,” she said, “and he’s our only chance.”

Rod Lueck, owner of a software company, cleared his schedule so he could spend October volunteering for Tancredo’s campaign. He recalled the disbelief among friends when he threw in with Tancredo two months ago. “If we don’t get Tancredo elected, we better get ready to write this state off,” he said.

Tancredo took the stage smiling, in a gray sports coat and open-collared shirt. Many of the previous speakers had talked about illegal immigration, but Tancredo — who, in contrast to his reputation, speaks softly and calmly — instead reminisced about his early crusades for school choice as an official in President Reagan’s Education Department.

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Then he asked the crowd to say a prayer for the nation, and told them, with a slight tinge of disbelief in his voice, that the governorship was in his reach. “I will do my best,” Tancredo said. “I will try my best and, with your help, this will work, you guys.”

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com


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